LIBERAL DEMOCRAT VICTORY IN NORTH SHROPSHIRE POINTS THE WAY IN SUTTON

Trish and Richard were delighted by the victory of the Liberal Democrats in the North Shropshire by-election held in December. Voters were horrified by the attempt of Boris Johnson to save the political career of the previous MP, who drew his salary as a Tory MP but made a massive fortune from other jobs. There is also no doubt that a factor was the deep unpopularity of the Conservative proposals to emasculate the element of local democracy in the planning system. This is of particular concern in places like Sutton, where developers will destroy our pleasant and green local environment if given a free reign.

TOWER BLOCK PROPOSALS AT BRIGHTON ROAD AGAIN THROWN OUT

Dunsfold Court in Blackbush Close is nearby and residents already say it is difficult to find a parking space

There are two proposals for tower blocks in Brighton Road, almost opposite each other, submitted by developers, that Trish and Richard are fighting. One is on the eastern side of the road close to Cavendish Road. This proposal for a five storey block with 36 flats but only four parking spaces has been rejected by Sutton Council planning officers on a number of grounds including design. Richard said of both proposals:

“While we need more accommodation these blocks, with little adjacent green space, are of poor design and would be blots on the landscape.”

The other proposal is almost opposite at the junction with Copse Hill. Developers have twice submitted proposals for this new tower block at the corner of Copse Hill, to be built after demolishing 2 and 4 Copse Hill, plus 52 and 54 Brighton Road. While housing is needed, we have also opposed this development as – unlike Dunsfold Court and Leith Towers nearby – it would have little green space around the site, and the parking provision proposed was inadequate, adding to parking pressures in the area. The block would be ugly, overbearing and a blot on the landscape.

These proposals were rejected by Sutton Council and the developers appealed to the remote Planning Inspectorate in Bristol, thus seeking to overturn democratic local decision taking. We are delighted that the Inspectorate has twice thrown out the proposals. They cite concerns over the overbearing character and appearance of the proposed block, a lack of outdoor amenity space (play areas and garden) and the mix of housing proposed (the number of small one bedroom flats). The Inspectorate rejected concerns about flooding and did not comment on our concerns over parking.

This may not be the end of the story so we will watch out for further proposals. Radical changes to planning arrangements were proposed in the recent White Paper on planning from the Conservative Government, proposals that in some areas would abolish these arrangements for comment on planning applications and lead to proposals being automatically agreed. Pressure from the Liberal Democrats, and our victory in the Chesham and Amersham by-election, where planning changes was an issue, seems to be forcing a re-think, but these proposals are still, as of now, Government policy. These Government proposals would remove the right of local residents to comment on planning applications, in some circumstances. Richard made a speech at Sutton Council on 12 July attacking these proposals, which undermine local democracy.


The site of the proposed block, viewed from Brighton Road

MORE TREES – TO IMPROVE AIR QUALITY AND COMBAT GLOBAL WARMING

Richard with the tree we got planted at White Lodge Close

We have a manifesto commitment to plant more trees, to improve air quality, combat global warming and promote the green, suburban feel of Sutton. We will be planting new trees in the next few months in Downside Road, Upland Road, Willis Avenue and Prior Avenue.

We were delighted when, in accordance with the commitment to plant more trees to combat global warming, two new trees were planted in early 2021 in The Ridgway. The story concerning the tree outside number 23 is interesting. Many years ago there was a tree pit here and a tree. The tree died. Contractors tarmaced over the tree pit. The tarmac would periodically sag. Richard suggested restoring the tree pit and planting a tree. This was done. The photo was taken during the brief fall of snow on 24 January 2021.

NEW ELECTRIC VEHICLE CHARGING POINTS IN OUR WARD TO COMBAT GLOBAL WARMING

In support of our policies to combat global warming and reduce carbon emissions, electric vehicle charging points are being fitted in lampposts in our Ward. The first locations are in Camborne Road, Stanley Road, Cedar Gardens and The Ridgway.

The photo shows the first vehicle that used the new charging point in The Ridgway. Given the policy to ultimately phase out petrol driven vehicles, a big and continuing expansion will be needed.

Sutton Council is working with Siemens to install Ubitricity lamp column electric vehicle charging points. Ubitricity lamp column charging points are compact and fit into the door of a lamp column. The aim is to deliver around 100 lamp column charging points in 2021. 
The aim of lamp column charging is to give residents the ability to easily charge electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles on the street where they live, especially if they do not have off-street parking or are unable to install their own home charging point. Installing residential charging points is important because a key barrier to people switching to electric vehicles is the concern around where they will be able to charge their vehicle. 

These will be a new feature for Sutton, though they are now becoming commonplace on residential roads in other London boroughs and the numbers are increasing rapidly each year.  

Lamp column charging points are most likely to be useful in roads with limited off-street parking (such as in private driveways), so priority is being given to locations where many residents park on the street.

Not all lamp columns are suitable for lamp column charging points. The lamp columns need to be “electrically suitable”, be positioned near the kerb and have enough internal space to fit the charging point. They need to be sensibly located so that a vehicle could safely park and charge next to the lamp column. The lamp columns also need to be made of metal, not concrete. 

An “earth mat”, a small metal grid, is also installed in the footway next to the lamp column. This is to make the charging point “electrically safe” if there is a fault. The current parking restrictions in any street where there is a charging point will continue to apply and be unaffected by the charging point. There will be signs to indicate that the lamp column has a charging point fitted, though this sign will not prevent non-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles from parking next to the lamp column. 

This is a major advance in our drive to promote electric vehicles and combat global warming.

RE-NEWING A HISTORIC BENCH

In 1988 the South Sutton Neighbourhood Association celebrated the tenth anniversary of its foundation by funding a bench in Cavendish Road close to Ambleside Gardens. Richard noticed that the bench was, after over twenty years of use and exposure to the elements, in a very sorry state. He took action to get the bench restored, with the plaque explaining the history of the bench moved to the new bench.

RICHARD SPEAKS OUT ON POVERTY

Sutton South Ward – an affluent area with shocking pockets of poverty

At the meeting of Sutton Council on 17 January, chaired by Trish as our Mayor, Richard moved a motion drawing attention to the number of residents of the Ward living in poverty, the support they got from Sutton Council, and the need for Government to properly fund Councils, while increasing spending on welfare to help the poorest. This is the text of his speech:

“This motion is about poverty and the impact the pandemic has had in exacerbating the gap between the wealthy and the poor in what was already a very unequal society.

In current political debate the phrase “Levelling Up” is sometimes used, but in a vague and unspecific manner. I have always seen “levelling up” as a key political aim, but what I mean by this is the need to level up to help those in poverty. It is a preoccupation that is one of the reasons I have always wanted to play a part in public service and political life. I am a Councillor for Sutton South Ward, one of the more affluent Wards in a borough that is more affluent than most of the 32 London boroughs. But in knocking on the doors of my residents I sometimes find people living in shocking poverty, families crowded into small flats, well down the queue for social housing despite their crowded living circumstances, using food banks, often struggling to put food on the table, sometimes out of work due to long term illness but often in these circumstances despite working long hours in low paid jobs. The statistics are frightening – in a borough with a population of about 200 000 over 18 000 of our residents are in such poverty that they are relying on Universal Credit to feed themselves and make ends meet, while over 800 of our families are homeless and living temporarily in nightly-paid accommodation, often far from Sutton with all the problems of getting their children to school here.

Who is helping these families? Not the Government, and the low point was reached on the sixth of October of last year when, on the very day that the Government cut £20 a week from the welfare support to the poorest in society, making us one of the European countries that gives least help to the poorest in society from welfare, Boris Johnson made his famous closing speech to the Tory party conference which even one Conservative newspaper described as being like an after dinner speech full of jokey one-liners rather than a serious speech, talking in serious terms, about serious problems, given by a serious politician. We are still waiting for such a speech. I doubt if we will ever get it. And I think that even the Tories now doubt we ever get it. And in recent months it has become evident that the public at large have clearly recognised we will never get it.

The Resolution Foundation estimated that despite the minimum wage rise and other Government tinkering, the lowest paid fifth of households will lose £280 in support this financial year – and that was before the rise in National Insurance contributions was announced, and before the coming tidal wave of inflationary pressures became clear. This is a massive sum for those whose budgets are so stretched. Not a lot of “Levelling Up” here.

By contrast, what does local Government do? Despite the £36 million annual cut from our budget by central Government since 2010 Sutton Council continues to give priority to services that help the poorest, in accordance with our Liberal Democrat principles. We are one of a minority of Councils keeping Meals on Wheels going. We fund Admiral nurses to help families struggling with illness and dementia. We maintain a system of crisis loans and grants for those in greatest need, though central Government support for this was cut back years ago. We support families whose children are eligible for Free School Meals due to the financial position of the family, children who might otherwise go hungry over holiday periods. We can hold our heads high.

We have stuck to our principles and to these policies while maintaining our concern for financial responsibility – and despite the savings and cuts to services we have had to make over the years to balance the books as Government support has been cut. The pandemic has added a further layer of financial difficulty with demands for community support that the Council has responded to magnificently, but that have been expensive.

What this motion says is:

The pandemic has left many families struggling to survive financially

The actions of Government have not helped them

We are the key driver locally to spearhead the recovery of the community and help those in most need

We need to be funded properly and the welfare support to those of our residents who are the poorest in society needs to be restored.”

PROTECTING BIODIVERSITY IN WARREN PARK

Many of our residents use Warren Park, and the footpath between the railway lines has a real rural feel about it. A small area of Warren Park is protected by a wooden picket fence, to prevent the area being trampled. This is an area of chalk grassland, an important area for biodiversity which encourages some unusual plants and butterflies. Earlier in the year the fence was extensively vandalised and the area damaged by trampling (and dog poo). There was discussion, which we were involved in, about whether the fence should be repaired, replaced by sturdier fencing that would be more effective but unsightly, or removed, with the biodiversity area abandoned.
Eventually it was repaired but within a few days it had been extensively vandalised again. It has now been repaired yet again and notices put on the fencing to try to explain the importance of the area and to appeal to the vandals to leave it alone.
We are not sure what the impact is likely to be but hope for the best. 

READY FOR COLD WEATHER?

Ready for the snow

Real Christmas trees were collected from households over a two week period from Monday 10 January 2022. If you see an uncollected tree email Richard on rfclifton@btinternet.com.

LET US KNOW IF THERE IS A GRIT BIN IN YOUR ROAD THAT NEEDS TOPPING UP.

Richard and Trish have worked hard to ensure that there are plenty of grit bins at strategic places in the Ward. We need to know if they need topping up with grit.

Yet again this year Sutton Council again offered residents and businesses 10kg of free grit per household/business to collect from the Household Re-Use and Recycling Centre in Kimpton Park Way. This year a booking system and a number of other changes had to be introduced to help the operation run safely and in accordance with Government guidelines designed to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Anyone visiting the site has to have a valid booking to be allowed access to the site and will need to show ID and proof of entitlement such as a Council tax bill. You can book a slot via the Sutton Council website. 

LET US KNOW IF THERE IS A GRIT BIN NEAR YOU THAT NEEDS TOPPING UP.

RICHARD SPEAKS OUT ON THE NEED FOR LOCAL DEMOCRACY

Richard intervened at the meeting of Sutton Council on 22 November, expressing his concern at the Government’s failure to withdraw its White Paper on changes to the planning system, and the threats to responsible planning in Sutton that these proposals represented.

During his eleven years as a Councillor one of his main preoccupations has been the quality and impact of development in the Ward. The current planning system involves local consultation and provides Councillors with opportunities to oppose developments that are inappropriate. At present there are two sets of proposals for major blocks of flats and tower blocks in Brighton Road that raise problems, particularly related to parking.

We are both concerned that the Government’s proposals increase the targets for new housing to a level that would require intensification of development in suburban areas, reduce requirements for affordable housing and remove requirements for consultation with the local community in some circumstances.

It was found that the recent Liberal Democrat victory in the Chesham and Amersham by-election was in part attributable to public concern over these proposals. We had hoped that pressure on the Government to have a re-think will succeed.

This is what Richard said in the debate on this issue at the Sutton Council meeting on 12 July:

“What is great about Sutton is good schools, low crime and its pleasant, green, suburban feel. That pleasant suburban feel depends on a robust development control system that responds to what our residents want. Local democracy and local consultation on planning proposals are vital to maintaining the key elements – good standards of building and design, and the protection of the street scene.

I can take you on a tour of planning mistakes in my Ward, Sutton South, that have occurred when local democracy has been over-ridden – when the remote Planning Inspectorate in Bristol has overturned democratic local decision. Now, we have proposals from the Government that would mean that in certain areas developers would get automatic consent to planning applications without there being any process of consultation with local people, the voices and opinions of local people removed from the process. This is at a moment, in Sutton South Ward, when we are grappling with two proposed major developments, tower blocks, along Brighton Road, but with the possibility that the views of local residents will not even be sought. These Government proposals will run a coach and horses through the local democracy elements of the planning system. They are a charter for developers to make large profits building slum housing, while ignoring and side-lining the views of the local community. This continues a process of undermining the local democracy aspects of the system, already undermined by the Government’s extension, over the years, of rights of permitted development. They are based on a view that sees, somehow, the requirement to consult the community as being a brake on necessary development. That is nonsense – what the planning system does is ensure acceptable standards are met. We want to retain a system that, while it has defects, lets local people have a democratic say on what is built locally. That is too important a right for us to lose. “

IMPROVING THE SUTTON COURT ESTATE

On Friday 15 October Richard joined residents of Sutton Court and Beauclere House (in Brighton Road) on a “walkabout” of the estate to look at issues the residents wanted to raise. The party was joined by Sutton Housing Partnership (SHP) staff, including the estate manager and the Chief Executive of SHP. SHP manage the housing stock originally owned by the Council as social housing, but about half of the properties in Sutton Court have been purchased by residents under the “Right To Buy” provisions so are now rented out in the private sector rather than being social housing. The residents raised a variety of issues including surfaces that needed re-painting, guttering, garage roofs, faulty lights and notice boards that needed attention.